One hour from home to the airport. Two hours in the airport. Nine hours in the plane. Another hour in the airport. Three hours in the car. Exit from London Heathrow on the Tunnel Road E, merge on the M1, and follow it for 117 miles, then take the A50 for another 24.3 miles until you arrive in Hognaston. We make this trek every year in early June. We change, but the trip never does. So miniscule on the map of the world, but these few miles stretched for several continents in my childhood mind.
Things in Derbyshire are more compact. The Romans laid out the roads in Hognaston two thousand years ago. My grandfather explained that drunken teenagers rolling down the hills would have made a more coherent navigation system. The narrow lanes are flanked by hedges to keep the tractors inside and sheep outside. The sun is lazier. Colors are a little different on that side of the pond also, infinite greens. I used to get nauseous from trying to catch each individual leaf in my focus as it engulfed the car and from the smell of fresh petrol in my grandfather’s old but new smelling BMW. We would stop to use to loo and get another roll of fruit pastilles. The food tends to be simple: sugar free multigrain cheerios, pasta, meat, potatoes, some form of green vegetable followed by some form of pudding, always with heavy cream. Granny Anne made gooseberry or rhubarb fool from her plants in the garden, and Grandpa Nick would eat it with vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream topped with heavy cream.
The door in St. Bartholomew’s where my parents were married, where my grandfather is today, was put up by the Normans. Sitting on an itchy dark green wool blanket in the garden on the one sunny day in July, I chased after the round fuzzy bees and my sisters and I assigned names to our favorite cows. Grandpa Nick read to me from a massive hardback - an exhaustive history of Britannia. “If you remember from one thing from all of history, remember 1066.” My great grandfather owned a mill that specialized in narrow fabrics: seatbelts, backpack straps, the little thing that connects the zipper handle to the zipper itself, continuing a tradition of manufacturing in the area that goes back to beginning of the Industrial Revolution. After the war, my grandfather was outpaced by some kind of new contraption, but he managed to save the Green family business through some kind of maneuvering that I didn’t understand when I was ten and he explained it to me. Most happenings of relevance around Ashbourne took place at least fifty years ago. Midlands accents can be indecipherable, even to the practiced ear. Even this last summer I had to have my mum do some translation in a butcher shop.
Katey Green turned Katey Driscoll all because a friend set her up on a date with some American that actually ended up going well, really well. She was the first woman in her family to get a degree, the first to move to America, and Colorado at that. In an act of blind faith, my mom followed her foreign husband into a world unknown to her.
Hognaston is mine only before October 2011. That’s when cancer killed Grandpa Nick and Alzheimer’s began suffocating Granny Anne. This last summer, we had dinner in the Red Lion, they make a mean bangers and mash. The original Old Vicarage across the street has been sold. Now, we visit instead Granny Anne in Bakewell’s version of the Old Vicarage that has been converted into a nursing home. She tears up when my mum walks in initially but doesn’t say another word as we sit with her for hours for the next week. Last Spring the doctors said she only had a few months, but she’s put on a few pounds and seems to be relatively stable shell of a person. We pushed her wheelchair around the garden and she tried to eat the rose petal we handed to her. I visit a place that was, not a place that is.